Lee Maracle, a leading voice in Indigenous literature, dies at 71

Writer Lee Maracle, who championed the stories of Indigenous women to change the face of Canadian literature, has died.

Family friend Michaela Washburn said the acclaimed author, poet and teacher died Thursday at a hospital in Vancouver at age 71.

Maracle believed that Indigenous writers, particularly Indigenous women, were left “last” in Canada, so she spent her career trying to write them into the centre of their own narratives.

“Although I’m grateful for an opportunity to speak, I am still aware of how irrelevant you have made us in order to believe in your pursuit of religious freedom, raison d’etre, that masks colonialism,” Maracle said in her 2020 Margaret Laurence lecture, wrestling with how the prestigious speaking series has silenced voices like hers.

“I’m invited into your space in an honouring way, despite the continued murder of Indigenous women, some of whom are my relations.”

Peers and admirers flooded social media with tributes to Maracle’s writing, activism and mentorship, with many hailing her as a foremother of Indigenous feminist literature.

“Today there is a wave of revolutionary Indigenous literature because of the splash Lee Maracle created decades ago,” Anishinaabe writer Waubgeshig Rice tweeted. “She always fought hard for Indigenous stories and those who carried them.”

Maracle, a member of the Sto:l Nation in southwestern B.C., was born on July 2, 1950, to a Metis mother and Salish father. She was raised in North Vancouver and studied at Simon Fraser University.

She became one of the first Indigenous authors to be published in Canada with 1975’s “Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel,” detailing her itinerant journey toward political consciousness.

Maracle went on to produce a prolific body of work that blended fiction, non-fiction, poetry and traditional Indigenous storytelling, including such seminal titles as “I Am Woman,” “Ravensong” and “Celia’s Song.”

She was unflinching in challenging the colonial and patriarchal underpinnings of the Canadian canon, with many of her books depicting Indigenous women straining against these cultural myths to reclaim their own narratives.

She held posts at a number of Canadian universities and was a co-founder of the En’owkin International School of Writing in Penticton, B.C.

Maracle racked up accolades including Ontario’s Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Order of Canada.

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